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03/05/07 Lessons From NASCAR

Unless you're a racing fan, you may not realize that the NASCAR racing season got underway with last month's Daytona 500. While the sport boasts rabid fans, those who don't watch racing are often clueless about what goes on in NASCAR. For radio, that's a shame, because radio can learn a lot from NASCAR. Though the sport's incredible rise in popularity and ability to generate ticket sales, advertising sales and great licensing deals are all subjects which radio should explore, the lesson I have in mind comes from the racetrack: Drafting.

As reckless and dangerous as NASCAR driving appears - with cars riding on each others' bumpers in highly competitive battles for position - there is a purpose to this nudging. When I was a kid I owned a VW Beetle that would go 200 miles on a $2 tank of gas. I learned that if I closely followed 18-wheel tractor trailers when cruising down the highway, they would create a suction which would pull me along with low wind resistance, thereby conserving gas. This is called drafting, and itís exactly what NASCAR drivers are doing when they stay close to one another.

Drafting is more complex than one car creating suction for the other. Not only does the car behind gain momentum, but the car in front gains benefit from the airflow push of the car behind. Youíll frequently see three cars drafting together in a race. The one in the middle gains the most benefit from the suction and the push. The pull and push make all of the cars run more efficiently, and the one who manages to get himself in the middle creates such momentum that he can catapult around the others. In NASCAR parlance, this is called a sling-shot around the other guy.

Though truckers gain less benefit from drafting, they often ride closely together to reduce fuel costs. When you see a row of truckers driving close together, this is likely what they're doing.

The point of drafting is that people are stronger together. We rely on one another to watch out for our backside, or help pull us along. Every time a radio seller makes a great and successful presentation for radio, it helps everyone in the market; sometimes everyone in the country. Every time a campaign is successful, every radio station benefits because radio worked. On the flip side: If weíre negative, ineffective, or we donít make the ads work, we hurt others who follow us.

Too often we are so competitive that we forget the importance of drafting off of one another and elevating the industry. Advertisers are being seduced by new alternatives as well as other media. If we in radio slam one another, we not only look like unprofessional fools, we hurt radio in the eyes of an advertiser. Instead, we could be paving the way for one another.

After all, isnít it better if those advertisers spend the money with another station rather than with print or television? Absolutely. So take a lesson from NASCAR. Even though everyone is in the game to win as individuals, they also draft off one another for their mutual benefit. Helping each other out is critical to their success. And it could be critical to ours, too.



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